Universities urge MEPs to reject hefty research cuts

The European University Association, or EUA, has called on the European Parliament to reject a plan that would make deep cuts in European research.

The EUA, representing 850 universities with 17 million students, has written to Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs, urging them to block European Commission proposals to cut €2.7 billion (US$3 billion) from the European Research Area budget, particularly in research and innovation under Horizon 2020.

The Commission wants to use the money to finance the European Fund for Strategic Investments, or EFSI, plan.

Lesley Wilson, the EUA’s secretary-general said: “Europe needs this investment to continue. MEPs now have a full role to play in shaping the EFSI and we are urging them to protect – not downgrade – European research funding.”

EUA open letter

In an open letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the EUA asked him not to sideline European research and to think again about where to find the money for the EFSI, also known as the Juncker plan, which will provide risk capital to stimulate investment and respond to market gaps across a wide range of sectors.

The EFSI aims to revive investment in strategic projects around Europe by mobilising €315 billion (US$359 billion) for the period 2015-17.

The EUA says it shares the Commission’s belief that investing in Europe’s competitiveness is vital to its future success, but the university community maintains that efforts to address the investment gap must not come at the expense of university research.

In the open letter, jointly signed by EUA President Maria Helena Nazare and Wilson, the EUA said the proposed cuts to research represent a “worrying U-turn” in the Commission’s approach.

“Through cutting edge research and innovation, which underpins Europe's future international competitiveness, universities are at the heart of the growth, skills and mobility agendas of the European Union.

“Cutting down on funds previously agreed on by the legislators for research and innovation activities downgrades the importance of research funding at a European level. Indeed, the European Union puts itself at risk of losing ground against competitors that are investing heavily in research.”

They said the cuts induced by the proposal would only aggravate an already difficult situation.

“Several EU countries have substantially reduced research funding as a consequence of the economic crisis. The proposal, as it stands, follows an unacceptable trend of cuts to research and sends the wrong signal to national and regional policy makers,” they said.

The EUA said the proposal would affect support for European research collaboration “for several years” and divert resources across the board from the Horizon 2020 programme, and the Excellent Science and Societal Challenges pillars.

They said the issue is of major importance to universities as the reduction to funds will affect support for research collaboration, yet numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness and impact of European collaborative research on innovation, societal challenges and productivity in services.

They stressed that universities do not oppose the creation of the EFSI, which addresses some of the essential challenges that Europe faces.

“But this cannot be done by harming Europe’s research effort, which is the backbone of its future competitiveness.”

They also urged the Commission to include scientific oversight in the section of projects under the EFSI, which they said was vital to ensure that the ambitious aims of the EFSI are fulfilled, by effectively supporting research and innovation in the projects it would support.

This would also allow key research stakeholders including universities to fully contribute to tackling the challenges Europe is facing today and will face tomorrow.

The European Parliament is due to vote on the EFSI in committee at the end of March.